Meeting the challenges of staff recruitment and retention: A #UHR23 blog from Browne Jacobson

25 April 2023      Martin Higgs, Communications Officer

The higher education sector is facing a crisis in recruitment shared by employers nationally. This has been highlighted recently in the joint report of UHR and AUDE into the difficulties experienced in recruiting staff in estates and facilities management within higher education institutions, published in September 2022. The increase in industrial action over the autumn and winter has also increased tensions within higher education, with disputes over pay, working conditions and contracts, and pensions continuing to strain relations.

In such challenging times, the conference theme of ‘working well’ takes on new importance and the role of HR professionals can be instrumental in achieving this. At the conference, we’ll explore some key themes that HR professionals may wish to consider, to assist the development of their organisation’s recruitment and retention strategies.

Being flexible over flexibility

One of the key workforce legacies of the pandemic is the increased focus on flexibility, with this having been identified as one of the key drivers prompting staff to seek new employment.  However, despite some flexible working methods having been required (and, for many, working successfully) during the pandemic, some employers are keen to have a return to pre-pandemic norms, resulting in a mismatch between employer and employee preferences. A more flexible approach to flexible working may well be required both as a retention tool for existing staff and as part of any recruitment campaigns to attract the best talent.

Conversely, particularly within higher education institutions, there is likely to be continuing pressure to move away from the more flexible contractual models which may be perceived to provide, in the main, benefits for the employer rather than the employee or worker. This could include a greater focus on the need to justify the use of fixed-term contracts as well as reducing reliance on zero-hours contracts to increase certainty for staff.    

Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG) and the Employee Value Proposition (EVP)

In particularly challenging recruitment markets, employers will need to give greater thought to their EVP – what is it that is being offered to attract candidates to the employer?  With the greater influence of millennials within the workplace, as well as increasing numbers of Generation Z employees, more traditional pay and benefit packages – and associated traditional working arrangements – may well not carry the same influence as previously. 

There is increasing interest from employees in an employer’s ESG strategy, particularly regarding sustainability targets and the approach taken to ensure a diverse, fair and inclusive workplace. This is likely to result in greater calls for pay transparency as well as a focus on the proactive steps being taken to increase representation and diversity at all levels of the organisation. 

Workforce wellbeing   

HSE statistics for 2021/22 indicate that just over half of new and long-standing work-related ill health cases are attributable to stress, depression or anxiety – amounting to 17 million working days lost in 2021/22 alone – with the education sector having higher than average absence rates.  Wellbeing initiatives and a proactive approach to managing workforce pressures will be essential tools to reduce absences and turnover, as well as contributing to the EVP for new recruits.

Join Bettina Rigg and James Tait, Partners from Browne Jacobson LLP and Tracey Hulme, Director of HR and Organisational Development at Sheffield Hallam University, as they explore these issues further on 11 May 2023 as part of the Working Well 2023 Conference.

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